After attempted bans, city partners with foam manufacturer to recycle it

Written by on December 5, 2012 in Featured, Neighborhood News - No comments

Councilman Jim Kraft holds processed material made from 400 polystyrene cups.

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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Was that the thought behind the partnership between the world’s largest manufacturer of foam food containers and the 1st District Councilman whose “green” agenda has earned him the nickname “Councilman Kermit”?

At any rate, residents can now recycle “foam #6,” or polystyrene foam, which is popularly known as styrofoam, free of charge.

Councilman Jim Kraft has partnered with Dart Container Corporation to offer foam recycling only at the Northwest Sanitation Yard, 2840 Sisson St. Clear Channel Outdoor has donated four weeks of advertising space on 40 billboards to promote the effort, and Heaven 600, a Clear Channel radio station, will also donate advertising.

Residents must take the foam to Sisson St. themselves; the city will not pick up foam #6 curbside.

“As we see how this goes, we have the possibility of expanding it to other stations,” said Bob Murrow, the recycling coordinator for the city’s Bureau of Solid Waste.

Ray Ehrlich, regional manager of Dart’s government affairs and the environment division, said last Friday that Baltimore residents had recycled 5,000 pounds of foam #6 at the Sisson St. station to date in 2012. He said that he was expecting that number to grow significantly by year’s end, due to Christmas and the large volume of foam packaging material that will be unwrapped with gifts.

Dart provides the container for foam recycling at the Sisson St. sanitation yard.  The company then picks up and processes the foam before selling it to other manufacturers who make, according to a press release from Kraft’s office, “a variety of new products, including picture frames, crown molding, and nursery plant containers.”

“We probably at best break even,” said Ehrlich, responding to a question on the profitability of the enterprise. “We’re trying to show people that foam products can be recycled; through that, the image of foam gets better.”

Back at his constituents’ breakfast in June, Kraft had mentioned that banning foam containers outright might lead to a cleaner harbor and city. There is currently a bill before City Council, sponsored by Kraft and others, that would ban restaurants and food service establishments from using any kind of polystyrene cups, plates, bowls, or containers, punishable by a $1,000 fine per offense.

Apparently no official action has been taken on the bill since Aug. 2012, when the city’s Commission on Sustainability said that it “was not prepared” to support the polystyrene ban as written, and City Council President Jack Young deferred to the commission.

The commission gave several reasons for its stance, including a study of San Francisco that concluded that a ban in that city did not effectively reduce litter in the streets. The commission also stated that “litter on the streets and in the Harbor are caused by human behavior,” and any effort to reduce litter would have to include educational outreach.

The commission also noted that a ban would have an economic impact on food service establishments that currently use polystyrene packaging, and that it would be wise to understand that impact before proceeding with a ban. Local businesses and the food packaging industry should also be involved in any city campaign to reduce litter, the commission said.

Kraft said that the next step could be to incorporate a fee on polystyrene foam containers, which would support the city’s new stormwater utility, approved by voters last month.

by Erik Zygmont

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